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John Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath, uses themes in order to portray a voice for America through its own common citizens and their own distinct identity. America has evolved substantially throughout the course of time. Once a place of isolation and mystery, people approach the new world in search of a rejuvenated life. For others born and raised in this new world, hardships are no exceptions. The “common” man becomes an outcast in the world focused on wealth and power. Businessmen and women become the symbols of America, yet people are quick to forget the true voice. The people who are in power act in such a manner that it makes the American Dream impossible to achieve. The men who bring the tractors to Oklahoma try to explain why the bank has come for the land in which they inhabit. “The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it.” (Steinbeck 33) With bankers and landowners in power, this same control has corrupted them into something that Americans cannot even recognize as human. The average Americans such as the Joad family are merely the weakest majority without a say. These true voices of commoners genuinely express the real America.
Using the theme of want versus necessity, Steinbeck is able to humanize the characters more directly to the reader. This familiarity between the characters and the reader, exemplifies the character's voices as America's “normal” person. Characters are forced into something on bases of necessity although they often do not want to. This separation of want versus need is essential in making a life in the society that America establishes. In The Grapes of Wrath, Ma must burn her own belongings before they leave for California. This is done in order to save room for the trip as her belongings are not completely needed for the family. Ma wishes not to rid herself of the countless memories that her belongings hold, yet she knows that it is ideal for the situation. Her true selflessness in order to benefit the common good of her family can be quoted in the last chapter. “Worse off we get, the more we got to do.” (569) Another example of this theme is portrayed when Jim Casy sacrifices his own freedom in order to repay the Joad family back for the kindness. He is willing to repay the family on basis of sacrifice although death is not ideal to any person. Jim feels compelled to save Tom although it is Tom who actually tripped the officer. This undeniable feeling is Jim's feeling of necessity to repay the family that has helped him. Want is portrayed by the American way on a day to day basis. Everyone essentially wants something. The American voice of the Joad family accurately intertwines with common moral that “you don't always get what you want”. Hardships shape common American's lives as the Joad family felt several times within the novel. The theme of want versus necessity exemplifies not only the Joad family, but the American voice as a whole.
Although religion is not essential in being classified as American, the theme of religion plays an important role in shaping the American voice. Many religious values can be demonstrated by the values of the “common” American. The Biblical reference to that of Moses is no exception. Both make long and difficult journeys until they reach their promise land. Israel is the final destination for the Hebrews and California plays the same role for the Joads. The American voice portrayed by the Joads embodies the fact that, as many immigrant Americans, the search for a better life is continuous. Another Biblical reference is to that of Noah and the Ark. Beginning their journey; they get in the truck two by two just as the animals got onto the ark. This scene is an allusion to the story of Noah's Ark. “...the rest swarmed up on top of the load, Connie and Rose of Sharon, Pa and Uncle John, Ruthie and Winfield, Tom and the preacher. Noah stood on the ground looking up at the great load of them sitting on top of the truck.” (113) Just as Noah made the choice to save the animals via the ark in order to create a new life, the Joad family uses their truck to leave their home and escape what they feel is yet to come. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck does more than employ the novel to influence his social views. He uses the novel as his medium to transmit the true American voice.
Dependency on others is a national presence. Without the help of someone, somewhere many people would not be the same. This common American theme can be shown through the Joad family's journey to a new life. Family obviously plays a major part in daily life especially for the immigrant families coming to find somewhat of a reborn identity. “All we got is the family unbroke.” (217) The Joad's voyage to California is supposed to be just the family. They somewhat adopt Jim Casy into their family along with the Wilson family. Ma decides to help some starving children. This is very generous considering her own family barely has enough to eat. The Wilson and the Joad families unite as one family and pull together to survive many hardships. This feeling of unity follows also into the idea of never being alone in America. In his novel, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck uses the theme of unity to note on the bond between individual families and the alliance of the migrant people as a whole.
The themes of want versus need, religion, and unity help join together the voice of the novel The Grapes of Wrath and the voice of the American people. “The migrant people, scuttling for work, scrabbling to live, looked always for pleasure, dug for pleasure, manufactured pleasure, and they were hungry for amusement.” (415) This same concept of self worth and ideals of life can be seen similarly between the Joad family's life and the life of any “common” American. For centuries, the voice of the average Americans has been screaming to be explored. With the publication of The Grapes of Wrath, this voice is exposed to the millions of readers each year. Much can be learned from this novel including the evolution of American society while upholding the key aspects of family, religion, and want versus need.